Sommer unfazed by new luxury cruise players

"Anything that attacts people, gets people excited about cruising, is a huge win for us"

Harry Sommer, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, says new players in the luxury cruise market are healthy for competition, helping lure new-to-cruise travellers to the lucrative floating holiday segment.

Sommer, who transitioned to the top job at NCLH from company founder Frank Del Rio in early May 2023, said luxury hotel guests are a key audience the cruise operator wants to attract.

During a panel discussion aboard the freshly minted Seven Seas Grandeur, responding to a pre-arranged question on whether there was enough demand in the luxury cruise market to absorb increased competition, Sommer said “I look at the industry through a slightly different lens.”

Harry Sommer, President and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings with Shawn Tubman, SVP Sales, Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

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Citing a response made by former Royal Caribbean President, Adam Goldstein in 2016, Sommer said people generally think about the overcapacity of the cruise industry in the wrong light. Goldstein had previously stated about 2 billion people take a holiday every year, with that number likely to be even higher now in 2023. Of that volume just 31 million people will cruise each year, meaning the segment accounts for only about 1.5% of the holiday market.

“So when somebody asks me, am I concerned about capacity with new brands like Ritz-Carlton or Explora, absolutely not,” Sommer remarked.

“I think anything that attracts people, gets people excited about cruising, is a huge win for us.”

“My competition is not those brands. I’m not fighting in the 1.5%. We have to fight together and win the 98.5%.

Seven Seas Grandeur in Freeport, Bahamas | Credit: LATTE

“When you think about all the luxury hotel brands that are out there and are popping up, whether it’s St. Regis, JW [Marriott], Ritz-Carlton on the hotel side, Four Seasons, Kempinksi… you just look around the world and these new luxury hotels are opening up every week of the year. That’s 50 new luxury hotels with hundreds of rooms. Those are the guests that I think will come onboard a ship,” Sommer said during a media session in the Constellation Theater.

The second half of 2023 has been a massive period under Sommer’s leadership with the listed company. This year is the first time in NCLH’s history that a brand new ship has been delivered across each of the company’s three cruise brands: Vista for Oceania Cruises in May; Norwegian Viva for Norwegian Cruise Line in November and now Seven Seas Grandeur for Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Collectively, the three brands have 32 ships in their fleet. Sommer says he’s visited about half of those ships to meet with the captains and general managers, and to chat with guests onboard to hear their views on what they like, what needs improving and the challenges.

“I love what we’re doing with this brand,” he said of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. “I look at the inspiration, the design and the sheer attention to detail [aboard Grandeur]. I’ve never seen a room even like this. Every room on this ship, every detail is absolutely fantastic.”

Sommer said during the transition from Del Rio to his leadership, NCLH has been primarily focused on the three P’s – product, people and partnerships.

“We are super focused and passionate about delivering an unrivalled product to our guests across all three brands. We move over 2 million people every year. We have fantastic staff, crew onboard the ships and in the office. We put people first in everything that we do.”

“Most important to us are travel agent partners. What can we do to be the easiest cruise line to do business with? To be the most profitable to do business with? I know the commissions that we give trade are the highest by far in the industry and this is essentially due to our all-inclusive packaging. We offer commission on everything,” he concluded.

Lead image: Grandeur Suite, Seven Seas Grandeur

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